New mommies are often willing – and desperate – to try anything within reason to calm a crying baby. Swaddling or wrapping a baby in cloth is a time-tested nurturing practice that may have some answers. Indian, Middle-Eastern, Chinese, and Russian cultures, among others, have been practising swaddling for centuries – often the practice is as ancient as the culture itself and passed down generations. Swaddling is also gaining popularity in the United States, United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. When done right, swaddling marks a beautiful transition from the womb to the world and can mean a host of benefits for the baby and you.
Swaddling – A Bundle Of Joy
The highlight of swaddling is a calmer baby! According to the ancient Chinese text Shoushibaoyuanand by Gong Tingxian (1522-1619), swaddling keeps the baby warm, prevents it from feeling scared, and also helps stretch the limbs.1
Wrapping a newborn in a cloth simulates the warmth and restrictiveness of the mother’s womb and therefore has a calming effect. It keeps the baby on its back, reduces stress, and helps it sleep better. Swaddled babies wake up less and sleep longer.2According to a recent study, preterm babies showed neuromuscular development, less physiologic distress, better motor organization, and more self-regulatory ability when they were swaddled.3
A study by Kerry Hall also showed the benefits of swaddle bathing. When babies were bathed while swaddled, they displayed reduced behavioral stress signs such as flailing limbs, arched back, splayed fingers brought together in a salute across the face, fussing, and crying. After bathing, the babies remained alert and eager to feed orally.4
Baby And Me
By soothing the baby, swaddling does moms and dads a world of good too! A fussy baby is often comforted easily after swaddling. Swaddled babies tend to sleep more peacefully for longer times, giving parents the much needed “me time.”5A well-slept baby also wakes up more cheerful, which has a calming effect on the parents.
Some mothers also find it easier to carry and breastfeed a swaddled baby.
The literature on swaddling suggests some safe swaddling methods that can help avoid these risks while reaping all of the benefits.
- Wrap the baby gently, following its body contours , spreading out on areas that are meant to remain flat, and thinning out on the slender parts. Just covering the head is enough, leaving out the face.6
- Do not swaddle a baby older than two months as it can roll on its stomach and lie in a prone position, a condition that could lead to SIDS.
- Avoid wrapping too tightly as it becomes difficult for the baby to breathe, which can lead to respiratory complications.
- Ensure that the baby has enough room to move its legs and hips within the wrap to avoid injury to the joints.7
Risks of Swaddling
Although swaddling can comfort your baby considerably, it can pose risks if not done correctly. Improper swaddling may lead to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), one of the major risks of swaddling a baby older than two months. When about two months old, the baby can turn and lie on its stomach. When a swaddled baby turns and lies in the prone position for a longer time, without any room for it to toss its legs and hands to turn back to the supine position, there are chances of SIDS.8 Many experts believe that swaddling must be stopped when the baby is about two months old to avoid the risks of SIDS.9
Some studies associate swaddling with acute respiratory infections and pneumonia, especially during the neonatal period.10 Swaddling has also been increasingly associated with hip dysplasia or the incorrect alignment of the bones of the hip joint. Swaddling involves straightening the legs. When a newborn’s legs, which are used to being bent in the mother’s womb, are deliberately straightened against its natural course, the stress applied may loosen the joints and damage the soft cartilage of the socket. This in turn increases the risk of hip dysplasia.11
|↑1||Liu, Xiaorong, and Yunyi Ma. “A Discussion of Chinese Swaddling Culture.” Chinese Studies 4, no. 02 (2015): 69.|
|↑2||Meyer, Lars Eckehard, and Thomas Erler. “Swaddling: a traditional care method rediscovered.” World Journal of Pediatrics 7, no. 2 (2011): 155-160.|
|↑3, ↑8||Van Sleuwen, Bregje E., Adèle C. Engelberts, Magda M. Boere-Boonekamp, Wietse Kuis, Tom WJ Schulpen, and Monique P. L’Hoir. “Swaddling: a systematic review.” Pediatrics 120, no. 4 (2007): e1097-e1106.|
|↑4||Hall, Kerry. “Practising developmentally supportive care during infant bathing: reducing stress through swaddle bathing.” Infant 4, no. 6 (2008): 198-201.|
|↑5||Thompson, June. “The benefits and risks of swaddling babies.” Community Practitioner 76, no. 1 (2003): 31.|
|↑6||Kapur, Malavika. “Psychological perspectives on childcare in Indian indigenous health systems.” Springer India, 2016.|
|↑7, ↑9||Kennedy, Kristy, and When Danette Swanson Glassy. “Unwrapping the controversy over swaddling.” AAP News 34, no. 6 (2013): 34-34.|
|↑10||K Yurdakok, T Yavuz, and C E Taylor. “Swaddling and acute respiratory infections.” American Journal of Public Health July 1990: Vol. 80, No. 7, pp. 873-875.|
|↑11||Hip-Healthy Swaddling. International Hip Dysplasia Institute.|